However, green technology isn’t really a wholly new phenomenon for many fleets. Indeed, green truck fleets have existed for decades. While some fleets are old pros at integrating and managing these cutting-edge fleet assets, there are a growing number of fleets including green trucks in their mix for the first time.
While, on the whole, the new technology is saving money and adding other efficiencies, it can come at a premium and requires some new ways to manage and maintain these assets.
Below are snapshots of how truck fleets around the country are going green.
Leading the Way
Today, 73 percent of Schwan’s 5,000 vehicles are powered by propane autogas, including Ford E-450 Cutaways, GMC Savana cargo vans, and Izuzu cab-forwards. “This percentage would be much higher — but [due to the recession] there was a limited availability of gaseous-prep engines,” said Porter, whose long-term goal is to convert 100 percent of the fleet to propane autogas.
While propane autogas has been a big part of Schwan’s fleet for more than a quarter century, Porter said he is continuously re-evaluating this commitment. “It’s a business decision and we review it every year and find the investment pays off every year,” he said.
Propane autogas has brought numerous benefits to Schwan’s fleet in addition to its economics. Propane autogas is domestically produced — fulfilling founder Marvin Schwan’s goal to break dependence on foreign oil. Propane-autogas-fueled vehicles also tend to be quieter and have fewer damaging emissions.
The biggest challenge has been finding gaseous engine options from the OEMs. “We continually ask and lobby the OEMs,” Porter said. “Unfortunately, the various types of engines we need are not always available.”
Even with the efficiencies gained by operating propane-autogas-fueled trucks, Schwan’s still relies on grant money to help fund the purchase of the vehicles. The company has worked with the Clean Cities Coalition for a number of years and recently joined the coalition’s National Clean Fleets Partnership, which will help make the grant process more efficient.
“We have had an excellent relationship with the regional Clean Cities organizations, but, since Schwan’s is in every state, it was inefficient to work with every location individually. Belonging to the Clean Fleets Partnership streamlines this by giving us one point of contact,” Porter explained.
“It’s helped us find new markets where we can benefit from incentive money,” explained Tom Armstrong, director of fleet for ThyssenKrupp. “It also gives us better insight into the country as a whole and more insight on new technologies by streamlining the information.”
But, the desire to “green” ThyssenKrupp’s truck fleet didn’t mean that vehicle technology was adopted for its own sake.Instead, Armstrong developed a system he refers to as the “Five Cs” that he uses to evaluate green vehicle technology. Each “C” is straightforward in what it measures:
Since making this determination, the fleet has deployed propane-autogas-fueled trucks and vans in Phoenix and Seattle and will soon be introducing them to its Los Angeles and San Diego operations.
These challenges aside (which Armstrong said “were fun” to solve), Armstrong expects to have about 10 percent of the 3,100-plus vehicle fleet running on propane autogas by 2015.
The change was dictated by the fact that “CNG is easier to manage, it’s cheaper, and there’s no vapor loss as you have with LNG,” explained John Lemmons, director of fleet and equipment performance for Waste Management.
Another big benefit of switching to CNG was the ability of the Waste Management crews to be more efficient. Because CNG vehicles don’t have the same emissions control systems as a conventional diesel truck, each of the company’s vehicles have an extra 2,000-lb. payload capacity.
But, with the benefits came challenges — the biggest is tied to the company’s fueling infrastructure, which is operated by Waste Management. “The logistics of conversion can be a challenge, since no two sites are the same,” Lemmons explained. “Some have a very quick turnaround, in terms of site permitting and readily available natural gas, while others don’t. We’ve dedicated a group of employees to handling our fueling infrastructure. One thing we’ve learned is that the availability of your fueling infrastructure has to coincide with your truck order.”
Losing Weight & Changing the Fuel Diet
While Baessler was researching the ideal alt-fuel for the fleet, he put his trucks on a diet, taking weight out of the box trucks and working to make them more aerodynamic.
Once the fleet had been lightened, Baessler determined that propane autogas was the best fuel option based on truck and payload size for its Ford E-250, E-350, and E-450 vehicles. Currently, about 1 percent of its fleet is powered by propane autogas.
After two years of preparation, the roll out of ARS’ propane-autogas-powered vehicles began in July 2011, and they quickly proved their worth. The initial 19 vehicles introduced to the Houston market have met with positive response from employees, who like that the vehicles are quiet, have less fuel odor, and offer more power.
Baessler also likes that he’s seeing a serious decrease in his fuel spend. “We’ve seen a reduced fuel cost of more than $1 per gallon in Texas and close to $2 in California,” he said.
Fuel costs have gone down, but Baessler and his team had a few headaches making fueling at mostly public stations work. “We had to modify our fuel card safeguards,” he explained. “There are limited MCC [merchant category codes], so when the drivers tried to tank up at U-Haul or the hardware store, their cards were declined. In Texas, some locations didn’t have differential pumps with enough horsepower to fill the vehicle tanks in the heat of the summer; we have our own onsite tank in place now that eliminates that issue. But, those are the kinds of things you have to be prepared for when making the switch to an alternative fuel.”
Baessler said ARS is committed to propane-autogas-fueled trucks, but is keeping his eyes open regarding other alt-fuel technology. Propane-autogas or other alt-fuel vehicles will be introduced based on the needs of that market. And, how green ARS’ fleet will get depends on a big unknown — the price of gasoline. “If there’s a dramatic increase or decrease in gasoline we’ll take that into consideration,” he said.
A project administered by CALSTART, a member organization dedicated to expanding and supporting a clean transportation industry, HTUF works to assist users and truck makers to reach pre-production manufacturing levels and deployment based on developing common key performance requirements with committed users.
Steps to achieve this may include fleet characterization, business case development, lifecycle and performance modeling, and sharing technical information. These key performance requirements, shared with manufacturers, serve as the basis of pilot deployments and then production.
Building an Alliance
In addition to onsite fueling installation, Alliance AutoGas offers an aftermarket bi-fuel conversion system that starts an engine using gasoline and immediately switches over to propane autogas.
Alliance also supports its conversion system by training a fleet’s maintenance team and drivers. Beyond basic training, the company provides technical and safety support and ongoing service.